Apartment types

What You Need to Know About Railroad Apartments

Rob Whiting
Boom Team

Finding the right apartment can be tricky, particularly if you want to live with family or friends. If you’re living with your significant other, it can be a bit easier to pick an apartment because you won’t mind sharing all the areas of your home. If this is the case, then you might be in the market for a railroad apartment.

Railroad apartments are typically found in walkup buildings that were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, you would typically find them in Queens, Bushwick, and Williamsburg, particularly in working-class neighborhoods.

But what is a railroad apartment, and what makes it different from other types of apartments such as junior-4 and one-bedrooms?

What is a Railroad Apartment?

A railroad apartment is a unit with rooms that are directly connected to each other without a hallway between the rooms. They are so named because the floor plan appears similar to that of a railroad sleeping car, with a series of rooms connected to each other. The layout of a railroad apartment looks like a large rectangle.

Railroad apartments came about as a way to solve New York’s overcrowding problems during the mid-1800s. Not only were the layout and narrow orientation of the apartment perfect for the limited space available in tenement buildings, but they were also a great housing option for the type of tenants common during that period. Most tenants who lived in buildings with railroad apartments were either single males, working-class couples with no children, or large multigenerational families with adults who spent most of their time at work.

Pros of a Railroad Apartment

Cheaper and More Spacious

The biggest advantage of railroad apartments is that they are typically cheaper per square foot compared to other apartments of a similar size. Due to their odd layout and the fact that they don’t offer a lot of privacy, you can generally find railroad apartments advertised with lower monthly rent.

Since railroad apartments don’t waste precious space for hallways, the rooms are also bigger. In a city like New York where space is premium, using that extra space for rooms makes a huge difference.

Unique Interior Design

Since most railroad apartments were built during the 19th to 20th centuries, you’ll find that many of them still display many of their original features and interior design. You’ll find details such as pocket doors, original moldings, and even fireplaces! You will typically have to pay a premium on rent to find these details in other types of apartments, but they are par for the course in railroad units.

Gives You Room to Be Creative

If you love having the chance to be creative when it comes to your decor, railroad apartments are perfect for you. Since many of them come with pre-war interior design, you can easily align the rest of your furniture and decor around this theme. You can also go in the opposite direction and use modern furniture and appliances to give your apartment a charming “old world meets new world” feel.

Convenient Location

While railroad apartments are common in New York City, you can also find them in other major cities such as Boston and San Francisco. Since they are usually located in working-class neighborhoods, you’ll have easy access to both public transportation as well as many essential amenities such as laundromats, convenience stores, and other privately-owned businesses.

What to Consider When Renting a Railroad Apartment

Limited Privacy

If railroad apartments have one huge advantage, they also have one huge drawback: limited privacy. Due to the layout of the apartment, the residents will usually have to contend with other people constantly moving in and out of their bedrooms to reach other areas.

Again, this might be so bad if you’re living with your significant other, but if you’re living with friends or even family, it can be quite difficult.

Living Situation Somewhat Awkward

Living in a railroad apartment means that you need to get used to the feeling of never really having your own space, particularly since the layout usually requires residents to move through each other’s sleeping areas.

You really need to consider how difficult this particular situation can become especially if you value your private space or if you and your roommates have different working schedules.

Not Suitable for Kids and People with Mobility Issues

As mentioned previously, railroad apartments are usually found in walkup buildings, which means it has one of the same problems as living in a walkup apartment: going up and down the stairs on a regular basis. If you live with small children or seniors, the daily climb can be challenging.

You also need to consider this for when you get groceries or food deliveries and be prepared for a multi-story climb while holding bags.

Someone Gets the Better End of the Deal

This isn’t much of an issue if you’re a couple, but if you’re living with friends, someone will most likely get the “good” bedroom. This is usually the bedroom that is situated at the far end of the apartment, which means that the other residents won’t need to pass through it to get to the other areas of the unit.

Is a Railroad Apartment Right For You?

The bottom line for railroad apartments is that it’s just not a setup that’s for everyone. It’s a prime apartment for single people or couples, but for families or roomies, it takes quite a bit of getting used to the living arrangements. That being said, if you’re okay with sacrificing a bit of your privacy for affordable rent and a spacious apartment, then a railroad unit might just be perfect for you. Just make sure that everyone who will be living there feels the same way!

If you're still looking for an apartment that has all the same classic charm of a railroad apartment, but you want something more spacious that allows you to be creative with space, consider getting a loft apartment. However, if you need something with multiple rooms, the classic six is right up your alley!

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